Networking can unlock board career opportunities – get yours in order

Your unique business, professional, and personal contacts are a valuable asset and one you can utilize to unlock board career opportunities. However, one of the most common things I hear from those considering a board appointment is that they don’t have a board or the right networks.

I can confirm that this is a good reason to feel concerned about one’s prospects of obtaining a board seat. In fact, networking is the most successful pathway to gaining a board appointment, regardless of where you are located or what type of board seat you seek.

Board networking does not have to be that daunting. But this is often the case when people discover that their current networks and connections are stale, shallow and lack diversity. To get in front of this challenge, you need to assess and nurture your current contacts to develop into a board network.

How to get your contacts list order

You can start by doing any or all of the following steps to qualify, expand and nurture your contacts:

Step 1 – Update & consolidate your initial contact list

Start with a simple list of who you know
Begin by listing all of your current and past business, professionals or educational connections. The people you used to work with, the alumni of those organizations, old university friends, people you have done business with, professional organizations you are part of, and current or past board and committee members you served with.

Next, focus on personal connections, including community activities and organizations. The key here is not to limit yourself to just close personal connections, as the more removed connections are most likely the ones that lead to board opportunities.

Collect and compile your list and contact information in one place
Start a blank spreadsheet and add your contacts to the new list. Include their contact details, email, phone number and LinkedIn address. Often, you find updated details by using Google, LinkedIn or tools like Rocketreach. At this stage, I recommend adding notes about the context of the relationship plus common organizations, interests and contacts. This information will later prove vital when connecting or reconnecting with them. Next, find any other contact lists that you may have already established and add them to the spreadsheet.

Qualify your Contact List
Once collated, grade the ‘quality and depth’ of the relationship you have with each contact. A simple “A, B, C” ranking will suffice. An “A” contact is someone you feel is definitely an advocate or champion of yours – someone who, without question, will have great things to say about you.  At the other end of the scale, “C” contacts are individuals you do not know very well. Leaving “B” contacts to be those who you know fairly well or very well but are not necessarily individuals you’d consider advocates or champions. Finally, go through the process again, and in the next column, grade them based on the value you believe they have to unlock board opportunities. For example, they may be in the right circles to hear about board opportunities or so well connected that they can introduce you to those who do.

Step 2 – Connect with the right approach

Set goals to initiate contact
Regardless of whether those on your list are graded A, B, or C on quality and value, set a clear goal to contact everyone on your list within a reasonable amount of time. 30 days is a good place to start. Set achievable goals, but don’t drag it out or make it a chore.

Connect, but don’t mention board career opportunities
The purpose of this exercise is to build, nurture and re-evaluate or re-grade your contacts. For some, this will be really easy to do. For others whose connections may be new or stale, the task may feel a bit awkward. There are a number of easy ways to start or re-start a relationship, with LinkedIn being the preferred platform. A simple “I just came across your profile on LinkedIn and realized we weren’t connected” could be a good way to begin.

Once you establish or re-establish a contact within your network, the next step is to maintain ongoing contact. You should also adjust your quality and value ratings on your spreadsheet, plus add relevant notes.

The long-term purpose of this exercise is to position yourself for potential board career opportunities. This approach relies on your approaches to seem inauthentic. To achieve this, you need to make sure your motivation is right by taking a genuine interest (before your own interests) in what they are doing, their challenges and their needs. This is where those notes you have been adding to your spreadsheet come to fruition.

Step 3 – Nurture and keep in contact

If more than 50% of all board appointments occur via personal connections, the more regularly your board network hears from you, the better your chances of staying on their radar. In doing so, you will remain “front of mind” when a board opportunity arises. Schedule short but regular sessions in your diary to spend on this task. Don’t let your hard work go to waste by letting your list go stale again.

At times you may need to manufacture reasons to reach out or stay in touch. There are numerous ways to do so. Some examples:

  • Sending birthday or greeting cards
  • Making personal introductions
  • Forwarding details of a work or business opportunity
  • Inviting them to a networking or social event
  • Forwarding interesting articles you have read
  • Sharing a new online resource, tool, app or website
  • Congratulating them on an achievement or anniversary

Step 4 – Use LinkedIn regularly

LinkedIn is the best tool for connecting with and staying connected. If you are not using it regularly, you should be. By following individuals, businesses, and industry groups, you will be able to have compelling conversations and find plenty of reasons to do so. My tip here is not just to follow or lurk; make sure to participate by posting, sharing, commenting, and messaging.

Step 5 – Do more to reach out

Whilst LinkedIn is the most appropriate resource for making and maintaining your board network, it may not always produce the results you are looking for. Receiving another email via LinkedIn can lose its lustre. Consider picking up the phone, writing an email, or doing something more personal in these situations.

In summary

You will be amazed at what board opportunities can be unlocked via a well-maintained network of personal and professional connections. Don’t overthink the task or get overwhelmed; just do it. It all starts by investing some time in developing board network contact list, then chipping away at maintaining and nurturing your connections. Yes, this approach will most likely take some time to see the results, but you cannot predict how valuable any of those connections may be.

Related Articles

How to get a board seat? The 4 ways they happen

4 keys to developing Professional Connections

How to use LinkedIn to get on a Board

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and recruiter. He has interviewed hundreds of directors and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP director roles in the world.

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